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Remember Them: San Antonio Goes All in for Dia de los Muertos 

  • Courtesy of La Panaderia
By the time this publishes, two of the city’s major Dia de los Muertos celebrations, adopted from the Mexican holidays that honor the lives of deceased children and adults on November 1 and 2, will have taken place. But there’s still plenty to celebrate.

The city’s Mexican ties, last year’s box-office hit, Coco, and San Antonio’s general love of partying could point to why we’ve connected to this holiday, but the food aspect doesn’t hurt either. Building altars starts by recreating a loved one’s favorite meal or dessert (soups and lentils for my maternal grandfather, chiles pequin and Mexican Coke for my paternal grandfather) and finding their go-to pan dulce, or displaying pan de muerto.

Found at most panaderias in San Antonio, pan de muerto is a variation on pan dulce with star anise and either orange flower or orange zest, decorated with “crossbones” across the top. Find family-sized versions at La Panaderia for $18 (available for pre-order with three-days notice) or individual loaves for $3.25. Model the loaves after your late loved ones at Panifico Bake Shop or Bedoy’s Bakery, where large doll-shaped muertos are baked to resemble military personnel, nurses, doctors and can be customized (prices vary).

For Cariño Cortez, chef at Viva Villa and part of the Mi Tierra Family, which displays a massive altar year-round, Dia de Muertos is an opportunity to get back into the kitchen, and bake for those we’ve lost. She shared her recipe for pan de muerto with us below.

Pan de Muerto

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • Zest of 3 oranges (use a microplane or grater)
  • 1 teaspoon Orange Extract
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 ounce active dry yeast
  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour; more as needed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil as needed
For the topping
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

To Make the Dough
Put the milk, butter and orange zest in the microwave for 15 seconds, stir until the butter melts. Let it cool until warm. Discard the orange zest, add the orange extract, and whisk in the eggs.

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water (no hotter than 110° F) and let stand until the mixture bubbles, 5 to 10 minutes.

Mix the flour, sugar and salt on a work surface. Make a well in the center. Gradually pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture into the well while mixing with your hand. Knead until you have a nice, uniform dough, about 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth but still slightly sticky. If it seems too sticky, add more flour.

Put the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. If you have a stove on top of an oven, you can heat your oven to 400 and turn it off and place the bowl on top of the stove. Or heat the oven to 175 degrees, turn it off and wait 20 minutes and place the bowl in the oven.

To Form the Bread
Cut off a piece of dough about the size of a small orange and reserve. Divide the remaining dough in half and shape the pieces on a lightly floured surface into two rounds.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or my favorite, a silicone mat; put the dough rounds on it and flatten the tops with your hands.

Take the reserved dough and roll small dough pieces and a large button sized dough piece to go on top. Just wet the top of the dough pieces with water and overlap the rolled pieces of dough and place a small round piece on top. This is supposed to represent the bones in the pan de muerto.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

Bake until the loaves have a golden color, 35 to 40 minutes. Cover the loaves loosely with foil and continue to bake until their bottoms are browned. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes.

Finally, melt a few tablespoons of butter and brush it on the bread and sprinkle some white granulated sugar on top.

Courtesy of Cariño Cortez/

So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.

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